Ustilago maydis populations tracked maize through domestication and cultivation in the Americas

Andrew B. Munkacsi, Sam Stoxen, Georgiana May

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51 Scopus citations


The domestication of crops and the development of agricultural societies not only brought about major changes in human interactions with the environment but also in plants' interactions with the diseases that challenge them. We evaluated the impact of the domestication of maize from teosinte and the widespread cultivation of maize on the historical demography of Ustilago maydis, a fungal pathogen of maize. To determine the evolutionary response of the pathogen's populations, we obtained multilocus genotypes for 1088 U. maydis diploid individuals from two teosinte subspecies in Mexico and from maize in Mexico and throughout the Americas. Results identified five major U. maydis populations: two in Mexico; two in South America; and one in the United States. The two populations in Mexico diverged from the other populations at times comparable to those for the domestication of maize at 6000-10000 years before present. Maize domestication and agriculture enforced sweeping changes in U. maydis populations such that the standing variation in extant pathogen populations reflects evolution only since the time of the crop's domestication.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1037-1046
Number of pages10
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1638
StatePublished - May 7 2008


  • Agriculture
  • Crop domestication
  • Host and pathogen coevolution
  • Host expansion
  • Smut fungi


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